It's race morning. Thousands walk through the streets of downtown Oklahoma City at a dark and early hour in search of their spot in the start corral. Some walk briskly in an effort to keep warm, while others amble about and converse with friends — all drawn in by the muffled echoes of the loudspeaker. They soon converge on the start corral from all directions, seeking a bathroom break and some last minute hydration before the start gun fires, and there is no turning back.
A small number of us find our way to the outdoor Memorial, just a few steps east of the starting line. Soft flood lights and quieted voices greet us inside the Gates of Time, and offer heavy doses of perspective. To the right sits 168 empty chairs, perhaps the most stark reminder of the tragedy that took place 21 years ago. Each chair not only represents a person lost in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, but gives us an all too vivid picture of an empty chair at a family’s dinner table.
A quiet trickle turns me towards the thin layer of water that flows down the center of the Memorial between the east and west gates. The polished black granite reflection pool sits on what once was Fifth Street, just in front of the building where the bomb was detonated.
I make my way back to the starting corral, where we stand in 168 seconds of silence — feeling the weight of the moment; truly grateful for each breath I’ve been given.
The gun fires, the sun rises, and I promptly find myself on a captivating 26.2-mile adventure. While it has become a familiar voyage of testing my training and proving my mettle, no race is ever identical. Sometimes, I feel loose and relaxed and could run forever, and some days, I don’t find any remnant of a groove until near the halfway mark.
I’m grateful for the moments in a marathon when you are energized and spurred on by your friends, your family, or others you meet on the course. It is those remarkable occasions when you see an old college buddy, or hear your toddler shout your name that shape your day. And then there are those more difficult moments when you can only summon personal inspiration to run alongside you. These are the more challenging miles on the course when the marathon itself is much like the reflection pool back on the Memorial grounds.
Those shallow, flowing waters remind us of a tragedy that left so many changed forever. And in a similar way, the marathon compels us to take an honest look at ourselves, and ponder the purpose and meaning of our every step. In those solitary moments, it offers us a clear picture of who we really are, and who we were meant to be. It beckons us to honor the victims, celebrate life, and be forever changed by 26.2.